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New, Fiat-based Jeep Cherokee 'half-baked': Consumer Reports

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[February 12, 2014]  DETROIT (Reuters)  Chrysler Group LLC's newly redesigned Jeep Cherokee falls short of the hype, Consumer Reports magazine said on Tuesday, citing the sport utility vehicle for a choppy ride and clumsy handling.

"It is a contemporary design that had potential, but despite a few high points, overall we found it half-baked," said the magazine, which has more than 8 million print and online subscribers.

"The Cherokee is an uneven package, and it scores too low to be recommended," Consumer Reports added.

Separately, the magazine recommended the redesigned Mazda3 <7261.T>, saying it scored among the higher-ranking compact cars.

The success of the Cherokee, which replaces the Liberty in Jeep's lineup, is seen as critical to Chrysler's success. The company invested $550 million in its Toledo, Ohio plant to produce the new vehicle.

Consumer Reports said the new Cherokee is a "radical departure" for the Jeep brand. The SUV is based on a platform developed by Italian car maker Fiat <FIA.MI> that serves as the foundation for cars like the upcoming Chrysler 200 sedan.

Chrysler and Fiat, which are merging to form the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group, are sharing more resources to cut costs and boost vehicle quality. The Cherokee shares at least half its parts with the 200 sedan.

Chrysler said in an email that the early response to the new Cherokee from buyers has been very encouraging since it went on sale at the end of October.

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Consumer Reports tested a Cherokee equipped with a four-cylinder engine as well as one with a six-cylinder engine. The magazine favored the larger engine, saying the four-cylinder was "underpowered and not very fuel-efficient."

The path to platform sharing has not always been smooth. The Cherokee's launch was pushed back by two months because of issues related to the company's new nine-speed transmission.

The nine-speed transmission is "unrefined" and sometimes unresponsive, Consumer Reports said.

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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